Be it people or plants, Jeanne Eib loves to create environments that thrive. It’s why she taught kindergarten with eager joy, why she raised three boys with relentless purpose and why plants are her life-long passion. Her “plants as art” philosophy comes to life on the canvas of living spaces – from model homes and mansions, hotel properties and private patios to restaurants and corporate offices.
In a quaint café nestled between two of the country’s most notable greenhouse regions – San Diego and South Orange County – she thumbs through a small stack of albums. Her gracious manner punctuates the flair of her renaissance spirit as she shares stories from her life and of her client installations.
When did your fascination with plants begin?
Jeanne: Growing up, I loved the outdoors and I loved helping my dad in the yard. My brother couldn’t stand it but it’s how I discovered my pursuit of “wild perfectionism.” In college, I lived on the beach in San Diego, loved the tropics and then made Maui, Hawaii my home. I love the outdoors and I love bringing the outdoors… indoors.
How did you become a plantscape designer?
Jeanne: It found me amidst the jungle I seemed to create in every home I’ve lived in. A friend of mine was a Marketing VP for a large land developer and homebuilder in San Diego. He called and asked me to come put plants in their model homes. “Oh, by the way, the developer’s son wants to interview you.”
That ignited my crash course in horticulture. I called a girlfriend in horticultural school, desperate for help. Quickly, she helped me learn to pronounce all those long Latin names on the greenhouse plant lists. Fred Bren – son of Milton Bren and brother of Donald Bren – did show up that day. He knew his plant names, too, was impressed with my interview and so began my career in interior plantscape. I took extensive horticulture and interior design coursework at several colleges and even floral design classes with the renowned Rene Van Dam. What I know is a combination of study, decades of experience and my insatiable desire to keep learning.
How have your design skills evolved?
Jeanne: Everything started out of our home – literally. In fact, my husband says that plants could easily consume our living space. That’s how I landed my initial job when we lived in Phoenix. We built a custom home with a major builder. He loved what I did in our home so I started doing interior design and plant designs for his model homes. Most of my work comes from doing the homes of interior designers and homebuilders. Eventually, I end up doing their clients’ homes. In Hawaii, my portfolio expanded to include resort hotel properties and restaurants.
When the residential real estate market crashed, I lost four contracts in three weeks. My husband lost his job in the real estate industry. Once again, a call from a friend proved timely. As an HR Manager for Lowe’s Home Improvement, she let me know about an opening for a plant specialist. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous, but I was put through Michigan University plant certifications. That’s when I began doing residential specialty gardens. At one point, I created and cultivated an English garden in our backyard.
How do your clients describe you?
Jeanne: My residential clients say I’m picky and meticulous. Picky because I hand select everything. Meticulous because I study my clients and their living spaces, lifestyles and preferences. My commercial clients say I’m invisible and the results are effortless. Invisible because they never know I’ve been there as I maintain what I’ve created. Effortless because what I design reflects their ability to maintain a thriving environment and it doesn’t interfere with workspaces or interrupt work rhythms. >>
What does a typical week look like for you?
Jeanne: No two weeks are alike. It also depends on what’s happening in the real estate market. When the market is in an upswing, I may spend a week or two on a major installation for a residential homebuilder. In a real estate downturn, I find that my work shifts to focus more on residential installations and patioscapes. I always find myself doing some kind of restaurant or retail space. Regular clients keep me busy doing full-service maintenance of their plants – some weekly or biweekly and others monthly. And one of my long-time clients is usually calling to have me design a specialty arrangement for an upcoming event, party or reception.
Jeanne: A green mindset is becoming mainstream for people and businesses. Conserving water is important, too. In the residential market, people stick closer to home these days. They want to feel on vacation at home. But they don’t want to necessarily fuss with plant maintenance. That’s why living roofs, living walls and the use of water-wise succulents are so popular. In commercial spaces, businesses are looking to cut costs without compromising ambiance in their environments. Done right, a combination of live plants with faux and preserved ones is very effective. Organic gardening is growing more prevalent, as are specialty gardens. My recent installations include succulent, organic and English gardens. I love the variety… and the value people put on tending the outdoors.
Have you won any awards for your work?
Jeanne: I’m really a behind-the-scenes kind of gal. At the same time, it’s rewarding to know that my plant designs in homes, restaurants, hotel lobbies and designer showcases have won awards, been featured in magazines and won my commercial clients more work for what they love to do. I also enjoy giving back to the community by lending my design services to charitable endeavors such as Project Playhouse, an annual opportunity for design professionals in Southern California’s building industry to collaborate on creating elaborate playhouses that are auctioned off for charity.
What’s something your clients may not know about you?
Jeanne: I was a ballet dancer, and I used to hang wallpaper. Years ago, I wallpapered a theater in the round, including 21 bathrooms. That’s when I realized I liked changing an entire environment with an aesthetic touch. For me, plants are very much the same except they bring an environment to life. Adding plants is always a doable enhancement. Sadly though, keeping them thriving is often neglected.
Eib’s philosophy of plantscape design
Surround yourself with green.
Plants bring a feeling of health and well-being. Studies show that you feel happier and healthier in a planted environment. Maybe that’s why God created us in a garden – the “original” green.
See plants as living art.
They add a palette of texture, fragrance and color. They stimulate the mind and encourage creativity. Use them to add vitality and life to your living (literally) spaces.
Bring the outdoors indoors.
It’s a proven fact. Green is the most common color in our everyday institutions. It adds harmony, balance and peace, complementing any décor or lifestyle. Give them a decorative place to thrive with the right container for the right plant.
Plants improve air quality – especially in offices – sometimes by as much as 60%. They can even filter out Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) found in many building materials and furnishings, copiers and printers, household and cleaning products.
That’s thermal comfort. The average office is at a 30% humidity level, as are most homes. The optimal is 60%, which plants can enhance.
Buy plants from the right places – places that understand and allow for the nuances of plant acclimation. Why do you think they call it a nursery? Like people, plants need time to adjust when moved from their native environment. Otherwise, they may not survive – costing you more time and money.
Plants instill a sense of richness and quality to home and life. An environment with them is perceived to be more valuable – i.e., staging a for-sale home with plants makes it appear more expensive.
Avoid poisonous pesticides and use organic products whenever possible. While it may cost a few more cents in the short-term, it makes more sense for our planet in the long-term.
By Garett McCorkle